Bent Scales

Anni Hindocha smiles in the background, as her father Vinod surveys the bent scales. Astride the scales, Judge Riddle, and with all the balance their way – Michael Kopelman and Nigel Eastman with the unkempt image that Shrien Dewani now chooses to present in public…

The Long Bent Arm of the Law

The Long Bent Arm of the Law

 
 
It is now more than two years since the murder of newly-wed Anni Hindocha on her honeymoon in South Africa. Her husband Shrien Dewani is accused of procuring her murder, yet despite declaring his desire to clear his name, he remains holed up in England, fighting extradition to South Africa. The extradition was approved by the courts  over a year ago, in August 2011, but it has been put on hold by a High Court decision in March, that it would be “oppressive” to extradite him given his mental condition.

It is an important role of the criminal justice system to protect the rights of the accused, as encapsulated in the saying “innocent unless proven guilty”. However, those rights are not an absolute, as in their application they can impinge on the rights of others. In this case it appears that while Dewani is enjoying his rights under the law, the right of the public to have a murder-accused person face trial, and the right of Anni’s family to know the truth of what happened to their daughter, are being trampled underfoot.

Expert witness testimony by psychiatrists Michael Kopelman and Nigel Eastman was pivotal in the High Court decision in March 2012 to delay extradition, and in the lower court decision December 2012 to delay further proceedings until at least July 2013. As of this latest hearing, both of these psychiatrists have declined further involvement in the case, yet their previous testimony remains, secreted in court records, as the sole reason why Dewani has not been extradited.

There are several disturbing aspects:

(1) Conflict of interest. The two independent expert witnesses called to give evidence to the court have been caught out in an apparent conflict of interest. Michael Kopelman and Nigel Eastman produced a joint report to the court, yet failed to declare their joint business and professional interests as partners in a forensic psychiatry consultancy.

(2) Suspect Diagnoses. The psychiatrists testified that Shrien Dewani is not in a fit state to be extradited, suffering depression and PTSD.

Most authorities explicitly advise that in a forensic context, a diagnosis of PTSD should not rely solely on self-reports of traumatic experience, and where such self-reporting is unavoidable, it is unsafe to diagnose PTSD in the absence of tests for malingering. Yet the expert psychiatrists admitted to the court that no such tests had been done. The murder accusations against Dewani are based on evidence, and that evidence casts much doubt that any of his self-reported trauma actually occurred. The psychiatrists appear to have accepted his self-reports of traumatic experience, without applying the sceptical lens which is required of a forensic expert in such circumstances.

Another eminent expert, Professor Michael Simpson (aka Cybershrink) has bluntly rejected their testimony as reported in the media, alleging serious flaws in both the safety of their diagnoses, and the validity of the opinions they offered. See the following links:

Last year: http://www.health24.com/news/Columnists/1-4618-4641,64221.asp

more recently: http://www.health24.com/news/Columnists/1-4618-4641,76478.asp

and just yesterday: http://www.health24.com/news/Columnists/1-4618-4641,78346.asp

(3) Lack of Legal Challenge. The British Crown Prosecution Service, under instruction from the South African authorities, has not challenged the expert opinion on either legal or technical grounds, despite there being strong arguments for such challenges to be made.

The inevitable questions are now arising, as to whether the UK system of justice is seriously unbalanced.

In this case, expert witness opinion, based on little more than convenient self-reports by the accused, has been uncritically accepted by the court and allowed to dominate its decisions.

Given the questionable aspects of the evidence listed above, the impartial observer could suspect inappropriate inducements might have influenced both the expert testimony, and the legal process.

It might indeed appear that justice has been neither done, nor seen to be done.

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2 Comments to “Bent Scales”

  1. Excellent summary of the current situation

    I am at a loss to understand the legal thinking here regarding dewani’s state of mind

    It may be a relevant consideration when deciding an appropriate punishment if he is found in a court of law to be guilty of his wife’s murder. It should not preclude him from being extradited to face charges in that court ?

  2. Surely this ‘farce’ can’t go on much longer?

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